Cleaning up fashion’s dust is no easy task, but we have to start somewhere if fashion is ever to become sustainable. Enter the women’s clothing brand Bee & Alpacawhich aim to turn the pollution of fast fashion into beautiful, fun and unique clothes.
As the industry searches for solutions for a circular fashion economy, we can no longer ignore the growing problem of discarded material in textile factories. A 2020 figure suggests that $120 billion worth of unused materials are thrown into landfills, incinerated, or placed in warehouses each year — not only a missed business opportunity, but a major sustainability problem.
Recognizing the importance of conserving this material is what inspired the brand’s founders to design clothes from fashion remnants and educate consumers about the relatively unknown subject. Their core value is that ‘no material can be more sustainable than that which has already been produced’, and they are committed to rescuing as many tons of textiles from landfill as possible, regardless of minor imperfections or tricky design logistics.
In an effort to learn more about their sustainability strategy and future plans, we spoke to Bee & Alpaca’s co-founder Deniz.
How did Bee & Alpaca first come about? What problem were you trying to solve?
Walking through a textile factory a few years ago, we were first awakened by the mountains of fabric waste that fashion creates. It seemed ridiculous to see entire rolls of fabric thrown aside and labeled deadstock just because it was dyed the wrong shade, had a slightly different texture, or had some minor imperfections, even though it was still perfectly usable. This was the most irritating fact of all, as fabrics can be labeled as dead stock due to minor quality issues – which in many cases are acceptable to customers – but do not meet exact purchase or production order criteria. It’s more than waste.
We work with a small number of suppliers, many of which have had to deal with cancellations during the pandemic as well as mounting inventories and no alternatives other than waste. This was during the company’s initial planning phase, and the knowledge that so much dust would likely be thrown out strengthened my determination to find a solution. Even now, many of these plants are still struggling with their recycling capacity and waste management, so we continue to have a positive impact.
How does designing with deadstock affect the creative process of the brand?
We always design with waste in mind, and the fabric itself often plays a big role in our inspiration. Often we find some minor issues on the fabric that are acceptable to consumers but not to brands, such as color imperfections or small stains that are easily hidden, but a big brand doesn’t want to interfere.
Since we’re starting with someone else’s fabric rather than a blank canvas, it forces us to be as creative as possible to make it work. Back at our studio, our team will review any imperfections and designs around it – which often affect the final look of the garment – and create something completely unique.
I’ve always been very involved in hand-selecting the deadstock we use, and I often have to assess whether we can work with fabric and cover up minor misprints or other issues. It can be a challenging job, but it’s never boring and I’m always proud when we’ve saved something from the landfill, even if it’s in small quantities.
Why is transparency so important to you?
Transparency is the foundation of sustainability and an integral part of our work and values. We strive to be as honest as possible with customers, and that includes discussing the pros and cons of using excess material, which could be considered controversial, and being very clear about what we define as deadstock. We publish information about our suppliers, design process, packaging, emissions and more on our brands page.
We hope to further develop our passion for transparency in the future by introducing annual Impact Reports as soon as possible.
What was your main concern when starting the brand? What hardships have you faced since then?
We are one of the few who really care about making a positive impact on the world, and it can be a difficult line to walk between profit and the environment. We’ve chosen to go against the mainstream fashion industry in many ways – foregoing cheap fabrics in favor of fashion’s deadstock, choosing to release smaller collections, promising carbon neutrality etc. – but it’s also exciting to work for what you believe in.
It can be challenging to leave the factory at the end of a visit knowing we have enough fabric for the next piece, but also that we leave more stock than we take with us. As a small company, we can’t hold tons of extra fabric and have to be happy with the material we’ve saved.
On the other hand, we sometimes find fabrics that seem salvageable at first glance, but discover in the workshop that there is one problem too many and the design is scrapped. However, we save more than we throw away, so it’s still a win.
Aside from using deadstock, what sustainability initiative are you most proud of?
We strive to minimize waste in all aspects of our business, not just in fabric procurement – including the design process. Having multiple design cycles with lots of minor tweaks and adjustments can create a lot of undisclosed waste, so we aim to reduce our impact by avoiding excessive changes.
We reduce unnecessary waste by limiting samples to a single color and size prototype with minimal revisions. Further, once the process is over, all failed prototypes are donated to members of the team or their relatives – nothing is thrown away.